Event Marketing Part IV Getting Down to Details
This is the fourth in a multi-part series on using events as an avenue for marketing your brand, product, or industry. For part one in the series, start here.
Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. If you’re a big picture dreamer, don’t fret. We’re about to guide you through the worrisome waters of detail. If you’re a t-crosser and i-dotter, you’ll soon be at ease.
Selecting Your Dates
In events, as in life, timing is everything. Pick the wrong date, and no amount of marketing or discounting will overcome a logistically impossible weekend. You can’t foresee every potential schedule conflict, but you can be strategic about picking a date for your event that is favorable. Consider these factors when address the question of timing:
Consider Sales Cycles
One thing to think about is the typical sales cycle for the industry you’re targeting. Holding a conference for CPAs in March, for example, will have but one positive result: plenty of leftover hors devours. The bottom line: ensure that your event is held outside of the vital seasons for your target audience.
Provide Adequate Notice
In order to give your audience enough time to plan for your event, don’t look at dates any closer than six months out. Most large conferences announce dates for the following year during the conference itself. In other words, a year’s notice isn’t unheard of. Even if you could assemble a sizable audience in less time, the effort required to throw a quality event takes lots of time.
TGIF! Or TGIS?
Attend a work conference on a weekday or a weekend? Think about it this way: would you rather get paid to attend an event, or sacrifice your weekend for continuing ed? As a general rule, if your event is a professional event, pick a weekday. But if you’re throwing a bash for hobbyists or moonlighters, go for a weekend.
Ask About Discounts
Most event venues know their peak seasons. Select a date outside of their busiest months or days of the week, and you could get a sweet discount in exchange. But you have to ask. Accidentally fall on an off-season date before inquiring about pricing, and you’re likely to hear nothing but standard rates. Instead, ask upfront if you could find a mutually beneficial date at a reduced price.
Location, Location, Location
Where you hold your event has endless implications. The geographical region will affect who is able to attend, and the venue will cap the number of people you can admit. First, you need to land on a city. The most logical geographical location is one in close proximity to your target demographic. Do they primarily live on the East or West coast? If your audience is located across the country, put yourself in their shoes. If they have to travel to your conference, what would make it easiest? Most enjoyable?
Pick a city with frequent direct flights and ample hotel rooms. Some cities, like Chicago and Las Vegas, have planned their cities with the conference industry in mind. Next, consider weather. Are you planning an event in a region that could be hit with severe weather? Finally, check the city’s events calendar. Then avoid those cities that have other competing events during your targeted dates. High demand for flights and hotels makes prices go up, which could discourage would-be attendees from signing up.
Landing on Lodging
Hopefully, your event will attract attendees from East to West. If it does, where are they all going to sleep? The good news is that most hotels love conferences. They provide dozens or even hundreds of customers in one fell swoop. If you’ve selected a hotel as your venue, even better. You should be able to secure special “conference pricing” to offer to guests. Also, ask that they reserve rooms closest to your event activities. Even if you won’t be holding your daily activities in a hotel, you may still be able to negotiate rates with those nearby. If you expect an especially large crowd, you may need to establish agreements with multiple hotels in the area.
Few categories will elicit such rave reviews or calamitous complaints as conference food. Exceed expectations, and you’ll have a happy crowd. Miss the mark, and people will get downright hangry. Your three constraints are simple: availability, budget, and time. First, availability. Does your venue require in-house catering? If so, your options will be straightforward. If not, what does your budget allow for? Boxed lunches will be cheaper than catered meals. Just make sure you have extras on hand, as a handful of attendees will invariably go back for seconds. And if you have time and budget, treating guests to a prix fixe menu at a nearby restaurant is a sure way to leave guests with a pleasant taste in their mouths (figuratively and literally).
We’ll delve into the topic of registration in more detail later, but for now, here’s our shortlist of what you need to know as you begin setting the framework for your event:
- This is your guests’ first impression of your professionalism. Make it shine!
- Have plenty of staff on hand to handle registrations. No one wants to wait in line.
- Hand out nametags with attendees’ names, roles, and organizations. Make sure you have printers on hand for printing those you miss.
- Be prepared to act as a concierge, answering questions relevant and tangential to the event itself.
- Give out swag! Everyone loves freebies. Work for partners and sponsors to curate bags of useful freebies.
Receptions & Parties
No matter how “professional” you bill your event, every conference or gathering eventually becomes a social one, too. Networking, though left mostly to your attendees, is an integral aspect of a professional summit. By planning social events and receptions, not only are you providing a dose of levity amidst a content-driven week, you’re providing a context in which your attendees can exchange contacts, share ideas, and boost their careers. Now, some tips for making the most of this vital time:
- Get social in short order. By incorporating your social hours into the first day or two of your schedule, you’ll break down walls and build up relationships. This will make everything else run smoother, as former strangers interact like friends.
- Let it flow. Alcohol (in moderation) has a way of making networking receptions more tolerable for everybody. There’s a reason it’s been coined liquid courage, after all. To make sure things don’t get out of hand, distribute drink tickets upon entry to limit consumption. (It’ll keep costs down, too.)
- Let them eat cake (or hors devours). Let’s be clear: every reception needs food. If your budget can’t accommodate a full meal, you can save some money by sticking with appetizers. Can’t afford either? Look for a reception sponsor. Everyone loves a brand who feeds them.
- Keep it close. Don’t make your guests travel far for this event. The closer the party, the bigger it will be. Hotel ballrooms are ideal. In summer months, a tent in the venue’s parking lot is another excellent option.
- Don’t miss your beauty sleep. All good things must come to an end. If you want people to show up at the next morning’s sessions, close down the party by 10 or 11pm. A good rule of thumb? Allow a nine-hour break between the end of your party and the start of the first session.
Your meeting is only as strong as your weakest partner. Great speakers but lousy catering? Unfortunately, that could be all your attendees remember. Selecting quality vendors is a crucial task. Here’s how to go about it.
Make a Short List
The fastest way to narrow down the seemingly infinite list of your city’s event vendors? Vetting the quality of their operations from the quality of their online presence. Go to their website. How does it look? Is it well designed? Are they showing original content and ideas? In a world where most people’s first interaction with a person or business is a digital one, a good online presence is so important.
Filter potential vendors through a review site like Yelp or the Better Business Bureau. Watch out for red flags like frequent mentions of no-shows or reports of inappropriate behavior. Then, look at pictures. Preferably, real world photos instead of studio shots. Then ask around. Ask friends or colleagues who have done business with similar vendors to look at your list and give their thumbs up (or thumbs down) to any names that ring a bell.
Start a Conversation & Get a Quote
Prepare a standard statement regarding your event. Include the date, event time, desired setup time, purpose, number of guests, and any special needs. Then use your prepared statement to email all the vendors on your list. Take note not only of their answers, but also their speed of response. What is the interaction like on the phone, or in person? Are they eager to talk and hear about what you’re doing, or are they putting the onus on you? Do they have quick and confident answers? Consider all of these factors in your evaluation.
Make a Spreadsheet
One of the trickiest pieces of the vendor selection process is keeping track of all the details. So take notes. Start a spreadsheet. If you’re working with a team, use Google Docs so you can collaborate easily. Then make columns for vendor contact information, pricing, order minimums, staffing requirements, and additional details. Rate the vendor on a scale of 1–10. When you look back at your roster of options later, you’ll have an easier time making a decision.
Make a Decision
With your spreadsheet in hand, consider costs, reviews, and professionalism. For catering vendors in particular, also consider variety and allergies. Then, decide. Email or call your chosen vendors to seal the deal. Ask for a contract, review it carefully, and sign. If most of your conversations took place over phone, make sure the terms of your agreement are in writing.
Much about conference scheduling is straightforward. Don’t start too early, don’t end too late, and never schedule your best content right after lunch. But other aspects are less obvious. Consider breaks. Breaks are much more than mere passing periods. This is when your attendees will do everything else their lives require: use the bathroom, make phone calls, and have conversations with other attendees. Breaks should be long enough to allow for all of that, but not so long as to make your attendees wander. Ten minutes? Too short. Thirty minutes? Probably too long. 15 to 20 minutes is usually perfect.